Archive for December 12th, 2007

Look, folks, there’s no such thing as privacy. Not on the internet, not in your home, not at work.

As long as you are connected, in any way, to others, you are tracked and counted and watched. It’s not always big brother. it’s not always a mean corporation. Sometimes it’s your friends, your family or your happy coworker. Our technology and lifestyle makes it so.


  • Your IM lets people know when you are at your desk
  • Caller ID tells people when you called and how frequently
  • Your credit card statement shows your buying behavior
  • Your TIVO reports back your viewing habits
  • XBOX live reports your playing time and online and what you are doing to your friends
  • Your WII sends MIIs out without your help
  • Your gas meters show when you get cold
  • GPS and Imagery satellites are mapping your house right now
  • You didn’t respond to that State Farm mailer, they just added you to the send again with different message list
  • You didn’t show up to the hair salon, so their appointment system just sent a reminder
  • and so on.

Our environment is one giant data collecting and processing monster. There’s no avoiding leaving your data around.

Perhaps one can make the case that by “privacy” we’re usually referring to the motivation behind what we do. Our intentions, our goals. Let me explain. There’s really nothing interesting about the facts above until you consider their context. Perhaps mapping your house with image satilites is bad for you because you run a meth lab that is obvious from above shots. Perhaps the amount you log on to XBOX is bad because you should be at school. When you missed your hair appointment you were out with someone who was not your spouse.

I think that’s the concern for most of us in regards to privacy. We don’t want to be tracked and put within context. We don’t want others to see what, when and why we behave.

This is my first topic on this blog because of some of the press Ask.com got yesterday. This really is not an important development for the world or for their business. It seems like a solid attack on Google’s dominance, but it’s really not.

First – there’s no such thing as privacy. Even if Ask erases the search history, their ad server, their tracking tags, Quantcast, Alexa, Yahoo Toolbar, Google Toolbar, MS Vista, etc. is still watching those urls, those queries.

Second – most people get over the tracking thing if the utility of the service is great. Examples abound. Few mind, to the point of revolt or service cancellation, that blackberry scans all your email, or gmail matches ads to the content of your message, your IMs are tracked 3 or 4 times, you call logs are mined… and we’re not even going to get into social networking, resume sites and all the more obviously NOT PRIVATE AT ALL services. Ask.com is attacking Google on a non issue for most users. Google search works better than Ask. Its spiders are better, its results are better, its cooler and your friends use it.

Third – Ask.com will shoot itself in the foot on this. Now that they claim to erase data if someone finds some they are busted. Worse, all these non-annoying ads are based on the fact that they are matched to you. I know, I know we all hate ads, but really hate them less if they are somewhat relevant in content and presentation to our own lives. Think about the commercials you love or hate – chances are the ones you love have some natural tie to you.

Let me bring this around full circle. If you want privacy, ask for less of it. Make sure everyone – every company, every politician, every doctor, every teacher, every net user has their data out there for everyone to see. If all activities are transparent there can be little abuse of data, for it would be easy to see who is abusing. This is the most basic of reinforcers. if everyone knows they are being watched, they will tend to follow the groups behavior. If everyone is answerable to everyone else, we get some bit of equilibrium. Watch the watchers.

I have no illusions about whether this is possible. However, we are more likely to get more transparency than we are to get more privacy. We’re never going to have less data collection. We’re never going to have fewer connected devices. We’re never going to have fewer advertising impressions.

We may not like the idea, but a lot of sure do like connectedness and personalization. Usually when we cry foul on privacy, it’s due to something else not working how we like.

~ Russ

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